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Modern Slalom Techniques

post #1 of 30
Thread Starter 
USST coach Phil McNichol talks about the components of modern slalom in this article. Interesting stuff, nice photo montage too.
post #2 of 30
It's amazing how early they hook up for their turn. It really looks like a more upright gs turn. In these photo montages you fequently see them looking almost like a mogul skier,(feet ahead,knees up), in the transition between turns. In this montage it happens right between the two gates. If you isolated this position you might think he was in a mogul field.

Any comments on this? Is it due to the incredible acceleration of the short slalom skis?
post #3 of 30
There's nowhere near the same snap in modern slalom skis as compared to the slaloms of 5 or 6 years ago, and racers actually work to minimize that now and perform "mini-GS" turns- maintaining snow contact as was mentioned in the article. Also mentioned in the article is the need to remain centered. I think the upper part of the montage was more dictated by terrain or the fact that a gate worker was there. The lower part of the montage shows a more centered stance.

That said, a video review of Bode running gates shows his torso centered more over his heels and his tail really loaded up at the bottom third of the turn. He has stated that it's easier for him to change directions quickly from that position. He's also Bode, an uber-athlete that has been known to bail a time or two and sometimes make impossible recoveries (i.e. Olympic combined downhill portion). When Bode's on, as in his second SL run in the combined, he's downright dominant. I do fear for his knees, though...

As I worked out the other day, I was watching the "2000-2001 Winning Runs" video and then the 2003 CSCF 2003 Worlds video. I couldn't help but notice the changes in technique, even within the short slalom era. More aggressive sidecuts, ever-shorter skis, and new ways of looking at slalom have transformed the sport. It's almost night and day. I guess it took a while to absorb.

Just for giggles, I went back even further to the late '80s/early '90s to see the "old" style in its heyday. Man, did those guys look slow (in comparison)! I've been beaten by more than a few of those guys in slaloms, but they always get trounced when faced with an equally-skilled racer using current equipment and technique. I always considered slalom to be the more aggressive of the technical formats (as opposed to the smooth lines of GS), but old school SL was downright violent. In addition to the usual pole bashing, you had unweighting/redirecting and harsh edgesets. Lots of snow flying and a lot of lost speed. I wasn't paying attention to the body position of the racers, but I expect a lot more fore/aft movement was present.

I just ordered this year's SL11 in a 157cm (screw the FIS) to eventually replace my 160cm 9.16s for Masters racing. The change in sidecut radius from 16 meters to 12 meters will probably not require such a radical change in technique, but I expect less active steering and skidding to make a slalom turn.

Having started racing "late" in life (early 30s), I'm playing catch-up here. My primary focus this season is to improve my slalom technique and make up for lost time. My own habits of backseat driving and banking aren't assets, as I'm slightly less the athlete than Bode is. Also, I need to develop a "go" mentality when faced with alternating blue and red plastic poles flying at my face. Took one at camp this year on the nose when I missed a cross-block and immediately saw the need for a jaw guard. Lots of miles in and out of the gates are going to be required to get the right frame of mind. You're not going too fast when you're always looking for more speed.
post #4 of 30
New? Kinda looks like Jean Claude sitting back in and doing his "jet turn" (availment) in 1966.

His style was amazing and almost offensive to many. At the finish he used to sit back and jet the skis ahead to break the timer early.

If Killy and Miller could have a match ....
post #5 of 30
Yeah, I have a recreational racing video put out by Killington in the mid-'80s that has half the racers falling backwards in what I guess is a clumsy attempt to imitate Killy. They are literally sitting on the backs of their skis at the finish, and it looks painful to me.
post #6 of 30
Modern slalom techniques is tightly connected (it works two ways) with the equipment/how the trace of a course is esthablished (a pretty obvious statement, isn't it?).
I was watching yesterday girls slalom on the telly, yesterday.
And could not help but think that the number of take off
which used to occour in the past years when a skier was leaning too way back (so as to load the ski tails) and being jettisoned
up in the air, has diminished (I saw only one girl experiencing such a thing yesterday).
Maybe the athletes are getting used to the materials...
But a comment from the telly guy "do you like these 'sciettini' ?" ('little skis', while referring to the extreme shortness of today's SL skis)
"Well forget about it, from next season, due to the new FIS regulations, they will disappear"
Was the guy "dramaticizing" things a bit, or is he right?
post #7 of 30
It's also interesting that most of his weight/carve on the lower gate appears to be on his inside ski. I'm kinda new at the racing, but I was always taught to keep most of my weight on my outside ski. Does this picture mean it's acceptable to put equal weight on both skis? so that if the outside ski skids out (which appears to have happened) the inside ski can carry on with a full-on carve?

post #8 of 30
He was dramatizing a little bit. Next season FIS goes to a 165cm minimum for the men (up from a 155cm minimum). The women are similarly affected. Everyone was running skis that were as short as legally allowed, and so I expect a lot of guys will be running 165cm skis next year with dramatic sidecuts to get a 12 meter radius. FIS did this to curb the rising number of knee-related injuries in slalom, and whether they solve or compound the problem remains to be seen. I know it wasn't the most popular decision, especially at the junior level. Since the USSA Masters doesn't check and I race nothing higher than that level, I went with a 157cm ski this time around.

I think skiers are finally getting used to a more centered stance, so usually they stay off of the tails unless they get thrown there. Then Bode shows up and rides his tails to victory (or into the fence)...

There's still more weight on the outside ski, but the difference has shrunk quite a bit. An active inside ski has been the standard for years (parallel shins vs A-frames), and at camp this summer we worked on developing a strong inside. This was fortunate, since more than once I lost an outside edge on the bumpy, rutted course (we'd been salting the lanes) and was able to not only hold the line but lose very little speed in the process. Having the inside ski carving the same as the outside ski instead of just dragging along for the ride is just faster and more stable.

My stance width was collapsing at the top of the turn as my weight shifted, primarily a leftover from my one-ski, lift and tilt days. By rolling my inside knee into the turn first I was able to form an O-frame (opposite of an A-frame), which eventually relaxed into a stance where both skis were edged more or less the same. Something I need to work on anyway. I didn't realize I was doing it until we reviewed a couple runs on video.
post #9 of 30
As far as the photomontage goes, Schlopy isn't demonstrating optimal slalom skiing. When in a race (especially WC racing) technique can be sacrificed in little ways for speed, and sometimes going for more speed leads to technique sacrifices.

If you look at the first frame, you can see that Schlopy is a touch in the backseat. I've noticed that he tends to look like this in slalom a little, but more in this example. This is why you notice a lot of weight on the inside ski in the second turn (and the Y shape to both skis)- notice the early release of the outside ski. You can also see it in the first turn where both tips are off the snow in the transition. Unfortunately the montage shows Erik making small mistakes. I mean absolutely no disrespect to the man (he is much greater skier than I) but guys on the WC make mistakes too, and this is one.

One thing to notice which separates slalom from all of the other disciplines in technique is a small amount of body counter at the beginning of the turn. This is shown well in the last frame, as his chest is looking slightly inside of his skis. This used to be common in GS as well, but is now mostly absent.

The whole idea of the two-footed turn is somewhat of a misnomer for me. I think that with correct body position you will get all of the weight you need on the inside foot (parallel shins, wide knees, etc.) but if you actively try to weight it you will take away from the outside foot. I've had it explained as pressuring both tongues of the boots, but never as a weight issue. The difference is subtle, but its there.

Mike, what camp were you at this summer? I spent 3 months at Hood- I wonder if we ran into each other.
post #10 of 30
I was planning on heading to Hood this summer, but events conspired to prevent me from making the trip. Instead, I chose to attend the Alyeska Ski Club camp in early June. Nice to be able to sleep in your own bed and have the instructors come to you. Next summer I'm looking at the Masters Summer Nationals (if I don't embarass myself at Nationals) and a week at one of the camps. We'll see how it goes...

I agree with you about focusing on weight distribution, and I'm sorry if I gave that impression. I asked the same question about it during camp and was quickly redirected into stance by the coach. I tend to focus on the little things too much, when if I would just tend to the big issues the little things would fall into place. I find I can concentrate on a maximum of two things when running gates, and never at the same time. I'd like to say that I could run gates without concentrating on the fundamentals and instead focus primarily on the course, but if I abandon the basics the results are never pretty. More mileage, more concentrated practice... hopefully I'll get there.

It would be interesting to compare photo montages of the various US men in the same set of slalom gates. Bode's the most obvious in his style, but I'd like to see the various approaches and draw some parallels.

As for the counter issue, I find it difficult to avoid banking in SL turns without a counter, and it also helps with the "go" attitude to drive down instead of across the hill. I still see a slight counter in the GS style of the top racers, but you're right it is definitely diminished considerably. Is this a holdover from old technique similar to the residual "float-sting" of the early short slalom days, or have we just refined a little? I guess we'll know in a couple years.
post #11 of 30
Alaska: A few weeks ago I posted regarding the FIS changes. The USSA is NOT going to enforce the length and sidecut changes in anything other than FIS events.

Source was Ski Racing Magazine.

I bumped the post up in the Gear Discussion.

[ December 16, 2002, 03:40 PM: Message edited by: yuki ]
post #12 of 30
Whenever you look at photos or video of racers you always have to remember, the goal is to get to the finish as fast as possible. Also, the one who wins is the one who makes the FEWEST mistakes. There will always be things that are different. People have been picking out one thing and narrowing their focus on it forever(remeber Killy and sitting back)(If you read some of Joubert's old books there are plenty of pictures of Killy driving into the front of his boots)
I find more similarity than difference in the new and the old. The equipment allows us to do more with less exagerated movement. The moves are the same.
That is a very good article but don't look at it with a narrow focus.
post #13 of 30
He who brakes the leasts, wins.

The different way we now pursue that perpetual goal of minimizing braking is the differance I find most interesting, as well as easier on the body and more fun to ski.

On the on old equip you would unload/unweight, redirect as needed into falline, then engage/carve to next unload point, all the while attempting to minimizing braking (aka: skid and chatter).

Now you absorb thru transition/edge change, engage/carve cleanly into and just thru falline (maximizing acceleration), then begin releasing (to minimize braking), while still carving, into next transition.

I for one sure don't miss the big lower back compression produced by a "carving edge set" on those stiff tailed slaloms 20+ years ago.
post #14 of 30
I guess the question for a lot of coaches is when to start bumping the length back up to meet the FIS regulations. For those running Europa Cup and FIS races in the states, the transition to a ski 10cm longer is going to be a big one, just as the rapid decrease in size over the last few years has been. I fully support the USSA in deciding to not enforce that rule for non-FIS races, and am glad I have some choice when it comes to the races I will be entering. Gear ain't cheap, especially for a parent who has a talented junior.

I don't think the basic components of a slalom turn have changed drastically, but the emphasis on certain movements certainly has.
post #15 of 30
Alaska Mike

You aren't incorrect in the way you described skiing 2 footed. Getting that cowboy feeling is pretty important. I just thought that for anyone who isn't totally familiar with the term or the technique that they don't start putting weight on the inside ski. Most of this was prompted by the fact that Schlopy pulls off one of the turns in the montage on the back of the inside ski.

As for the counter, from what I have heard it is actually something natural in the way a slalom turn develops compared with a GS-DH turn. It is definently correct technique- in fact I have been taught it, or at least have been told that it is going to happen. I think part of it has to do with the short skis, the short gate distances, and the short radius turns. I think going 'arc to arc' requires a certain amount of time for your body. Countering is just cheating that.

Since he has been mentioned a few times here, 'cheating' is a good way to describe the way Bode skis. Not in a 'not fair' kind of way, but he gets his body inside the turn earlier than everyone else on the WC. From slightly in the backseat of one turn he drives his upper body across the hill to make a much tighter radius turn with his torso. This forces a rapid edgeset (rather than waiting to develop your edges in the fall line) and accelerates his skis around. If you look at Bode in Slo-mo or in stills, he is incredibly forward at the right parts of the turn. He is able to transition his weight back to the tail of the ski for the finish of the turn (actually the proper way to do it I'm told), but then drive his CG across and down to get infront of his skis again. He skips a step of body movement, and he can get just as far forward on his skis as he does back. It's just easier to see when he gets in the backseat.

I like that people here are interested in the new slalom techniques. It's nice to hear that people still think racing can be cool. I still don't know anything better to improve your skiing.
post #16 of 30
As far as being easier on the body, I think there is a caveat to that. I have heard of (and also suffered) back injuries from the new slalom. Rather than compression, it is more of a wrenching injury due to the torque. I got hurt this summer training slalom, wrenching my back due to overtraining.

However, your back (twisting) is something that you can protect much better than your back (compression) or knees. Good strengthening goes a long way. But, with every new technology, there are new injuries...
post #17 of 30
As ski length changes, so does the course setting of the trainers. The distances between gates, size of turn, shape of turn and amount of direction change in SL has changed dramatically with ski design - watch closely how course setting adapts to the 165cm minimum rule.
post #18 of 30
Yes, but with that length change came greater sidecuts, so we could ski a tighter course. Now lengths are going back up, but I would speculate that the sidecuts are going to become more pronounced to maintain an 11- 12 meter radius. Lots of clown foot skis are going to be on the circuit if that's the case.
post #19 of 30
I would disagree with the 11-12m (r) thing. A good number of WC'ers use a ski now which is larger than 155. Some as well use a ski that does not have a 12m radius even at short lengths. Nordica has their 155 at a 13m radius this year- at Aamont's request. Bode has been running a 161-2 for a while now, and has been using less sidecut than others.

The big difference is that he gets more edge angle, so he doesn't need as much sidecut. I think that the courses are going to change just a little bit for the bigger skis, but the big difference is not going to be at WC or Europa levels, but merely at the lowest levels of FIS.
post #20 of 30
Originally posted by sanchez:
I like that people here are interested in the new slalom techniques. It's nice to hear that people still think racing can be cool. I still don't know anything better to improve your skiing.
I think racing is very cool [img]graemlins/thumbsup.gif[/img] and agree that it is the best way to improve your skiing.

I only wish I had time to train and race . . . . like in the days before wife, children, mortgage, etc. No, I am not complaining.

Thanks for the analysis, this is very interesting stuff for us arm-chair racing aficionados.
post #21 of 30
As mentioned above the WC guys often trade pure tecnique for pure speed, a risk invited by their always being "on the edge".

I got to watch a WC womens SL yesterday (after getting home from dueling in my local metro-council SL race). And while I think the men are sure fun to watch, taking nothing away from their talent, I have always found that the women present a more consistant image of efficient technique than do the men. Without the overwhelming horsepower of the men on tap, the women appear to rely more on precise and accurate movements, finesse, and error free consistancy. I like the rock solid centered stance and smooth flow of movements that connect their turns. When they do need to recover, it is more often with cat like agility than brute force.

For what we seek to learn from these "state of the art" skiers it may be more relavent to discuss the clean images of the women than the power warped ones of the men. I suspect few of us have the physical strength of the WC men such that what they can do even begins to translate to what we need to do. Probably few of us could match the women's power-to-weight-ratio for that matter, but at least their efficient application is closer to our functional reality. When I watch the women I at least can relate to the stance, balance and movement patterns I see. While the guys are entertaining to watch, the gals have the efficiency and quality of movements I encourage the kids I coach to emulate. These are the same things I aspire to in my own skiing even tho I lack the quickness and agility of their youth with which to apply them.
post #22 of 30
I agree that the WC women are the ones to watch in slalom, especially Janica and Anja.

Interesting point, and one well taken. I'm just getting used to a 12 meter radius ski, and I ski in a very Atomic-dominated league. I get a little tunnel vision at times.

Anyone have any opinions on the KO slalom format?
post #23 of 30
AK mike,
Clarify KO format?

Also, I heard, or read somewhere, that the new SL ski spec rules for next season will also have a max tip width diminsion as well as the new longer minimum length. Can anyone else confirm this, or is it just a rumor? As there is already a minimum waist diminsion, this would narrow the range for SL ski turn radius varation and allow course setters to establish some consistancy from season to season and enable more relative training sets.

I like the idea that these changes, along with the GS ski spec of a 21 meter minimum radius, are getting back to a format where the equip is less of a variable in the equation than ultimate skier skill. It is not quite like "one design" or "spec" racing in other sports, ski technology still has room to evolve, but I like having human talent as the biggest factor who wins.
post #24 of 30
I watched the women's KO race the other day and I have to say I'm not sure about it. When a skier with the second best time doesn't get to move forward to the last round something doesn't seem right to me. Granted they still get the WC points, but it doesn't seem fair not to get to the podium or at least to get to the last round having skied the second best time. If they are going to race this way why not race head to head if the winning time is to be decided between just two skiers? Does anyone know how the pairings are decided?
post #25 of 30
Ok- as far as I know (having read the new rules only like twice) there is no tip width restriction on slalom skis. That is something I would have remembered (I think...)

I too agree that the best place for technique is WC women. Their power to weight ratio is much more similar to you or I (especially since I'm about the size of one of the women on the WC) than Herman Maier or Aamondt. I like women's slalom and GS a lot, but I'm not a huge fan of women's speed. That being said I still like watching ski racing over about everything else, just that W/DH and W/SG are #7 and #8 on my list.

I like the idea that these changes, along with the GS ski spec of a 21 meter minimum radius, are getting back to a format where the equip is less of a variable in the equation than ultimate skier skill. It is not quite like "one design" or "spec" racing in other sports, ski technology still has room to evolve, but I like having human talent as the biggest factor who wins.
I don't like the idea of new equipment rules at all. In fact, I belive that it is going to do exactly the opposite of what you think it is going to do. I don't belive that these rules are going to make the equipment any more similar than it was before. The fastest skis on the WC change year to year with construction. The skis that aren't fast don't have a competitive construction (ie last years Volkl GS, the Nordica GS, etc) This year the Volkl is podiuming on the WC- merely because it is a better ski. No one skied it last year because no one tested well on it during the summer (men, not women). Now, with a SL minimum, it is not going to be about skill so much, but rather body type. The a lot of the huge WC men still use skis under 160 this year. They are going to have an easier time with a 165+ than a guy my size (of which there are few, but some on the WC) The quality of the skis isn't going to change. The size of the skier is. Finesse will be even less in the equation.

As for the other minimum lenths, I don't think they will affect the sport at all at the WC level. No one skis below a 185 in GS, or a 205 in SG.

I didn't pay enough attention to the KO slalom, but I thought that the top 2 non-automatically advancing times in the second round advanced. I didn't watch the race but I though that was in the rules. Plus, the whole idea with the knockout is that you merely have to beat one person with the same course conditions.
post #26 of 30
What happened in the race I saw, was that the top two times period, were between racers racing aganst each other in the second round. Only one could advance. I didn't watch it in detail, but that's how I understood what happened. :
post #27 of 30
I didn't see a tip width mentioned in the new rules either. My biggest problems with the new rules were at the junior level, where thankfully USSA isn't enforcing them next year. Hopefully this will all smooth out over time and there will be a solid equipment progression (both in gear and coaching) to get the younger racers up to speed without hurting their development. At least FIS gave us a couple of years...

The KO format basically is a set of elimination rounds. I was kinda fuzzy on this, but correct me if I'm wrong. Every racer run through a preliminary run to qualify. The top 36(?) move forward and are paired up to race against each other one time down the course. The 18 winners from that are paired again, and the top 9 move forward to the final round, which is the actual race (one run decides it all). From what I can remember, none of your previous times matter once you advance.

The problem I have with this format is that you have to be "on" for a total of 4 runs. Bode is gonna have a little trouble with that one. There's no come from behind. Also, (and this is pushing the envelope a little) Resi Steigler could be paired against Janica Kostelic in the first round of pairings, put down an outstanding run that is the second best of the entire series, and still be eliminated by Janica. Done- no podium, and probably few points. Even if Resi could have maintained that level of excellence all day, she's still out. Too much there is left to luck of the draw in my opinion.
post #28 of 30
KO sounds a lot like the format run by Pro Ski Racing back in '70's & '80s where each round was two runs, one on each of the two parallel, head-to-head courses. The only time taken was winners dirrerential at finish, with net winner of both runs advancing to the next round. The Pros learned to 'coast when the had a matchup in the bag, saving something for the next round. I thought the WC final race each year has run something like this format. Is the KO a 'parallel' or 'dual' format as well, or run on a single course? This kind of racing places a priority on ability to consistantly get up for the single opponent next of you as well as fast runs back to back.
post #29 of 30
Single course, not a duel (dual) format. One racer would go down, and then wait as their match would make their run. All things being equal, two runs (alternating sides) down a duel slalom would be more exciting, but at least they're trying to make ski racing interesting to a wider demographic.
post #30 of 30
A full description of the KO system is in the November 2002 FIS ICR Precisions, page 5, available on line Here.
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